A new law, effective Monday, transforms a map of Utah's court boundaries that resembled a confusing 100-piece jigsaw puzzle into a simple, understandable, logical map of eight consolidated districts.
Before the change, many court-goers could be found scratching their heads outside the Metropolitan Hall of Justice, 240 E. Fourth South, trying to figure out why Salt Lake County's district court was in the 3rd District just a couple yards away from Salt Lake's 5th Circuit Court. And the juvenile court in Salt Lake was called the 2nd District Juvenile Court.The complex numbering system of geographic boundaries had evolved since the early 1900s and had not been updated.
Now, all courts that serve Salt Lake, Tooele and Summit counties district, circuit and juvenile courts will be in the 3rd district.
Similarly, Utah county's courts will all be in the 4th district; Iron county courts in the 5th district, Cache county's courts in the first district and so on.
Not only will the change save headaches to those wondering where to pay traffic fines, file a civil suit or appear for jury duty, it will save taxpayers money because administration of courts will be more economical.
In some counties, one administrator will oversee three courts in a district rather than three separate administrators.
Another benefit is the reduced number of judicial nominating commissions (who review applicants for judgeships). Formerly, 25 nominating commissions were required. Now only eight one for each district will be required.
The boundary realignment will not affect the number of judges in the state. There remain 29 district judges, 12 juvenile judges and 37 circuit court judges in Utah.
The primary difference between district courts and circuit courts is in the seriousness of the offenses handled. District courts, known as "trial courts," handle felonies crimes punishable by a prison term of more than a year. Circuit courts handle misdemeanor offenses for which the maximum penalty may not exceed a year in the county jail.
Juvenile courts' jurisdiction deals with minors up to age 18, including offenses ranging from truancy to aggravated kidnapping.
Currently, there are seven district courts, 12 circuit and six juvenile courts in Utah.
The new boundaries were drafted by the state court administrator's office. The boundaries were approved by the Legislature in February.
State Court Administrator William Vickrey said he is very pleased with the progressive boundary changes.
"The new boundaries will reduce the confusion to the public and the legal community. They pave the way for increased efficiency and more economical administration of the courts, increasing the judiciary's ability to improve the quality of justice in our state."